An Asian American goes to Asia for the first time.
1. What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB?
I took classes from the history department and the Southeast Asian studies department: South Asians in Singapore, Colonial Southeast Asia Through European History, Asia and the Modern World, Southeast Asia: A Changing Region. Most of these classes were considered freshmen-level classes, and they were similar to classes at UCSB in terms of their lecture style and grading scale. However, it seemed that classes at NUS emphasize group projects/assignments more than classes at UCSB.
2. What was your favorite class abroad?
My favorite was Southeast Asia: A Changing Region. This class covered topics such as tourism, religion, migration, and sex work in Southeast Asia. It reminded me of my Asian American studies classes at UCSB, since it dealt with issues and themes related to regional identity, many of which reminded me of the struggles that Asian Americans go through. I hadn’t realized how similar the two worlds are, despite being separated by an ocean and falling under different influences, and this class really opened my eyes to the complexity of Southeast Asia.
3. Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad? If so, tell us about your experience.
There were no internship/research opportunities that I took from NUS itself, but I carried my research project for UCSB’s URCA grant to Singapore and was able to travel to Vietnam during my time there to conduct interviews for the purpose of my project.
4. How would you describe your host institution?
The campus is big and a little hilly, but there are shuttles to take you to each building. The architecture is very modern, and most of the buildings are new and well-kept. Buildings are very well air-conditioned
5. Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join?
There are a lot of clubs/orgs that students can join, although for some of them (if there’s auditioning or a team involved), it might be hard to join during spring semester, as there may not be space available in the middle of the year. I personally didn’t participate in any of these clubs, but my friend was able to join the cross-country team and another friend joined a dance team.
6. Describe your housing situation.
I lived in a university-owned apartment, typically for grad students but also for exchange students. I was lucky enough to have an air-conditioned room, but not all of the rooms in the apartment building are air-conditioned. Each apartment consists of a living room, a semi-kitchen that has a sink, fridge, and microwave (no stove/oven), a bathroom, and four single rooms. I lived with two other exchange students and one local grad student.
7. Where did you eat most of your meals?
I didn’t have a meal plan, so I mostly ate at the university’s food courts near my apartment. Food there was very cheap, especially since there was a discount for NUS students. If I wasn’t eating at the food courts, my friends and I were making the trip to a nearby hawker center (outside of campus).
8. How much was an average meal? Do you have any budgeting tips for future students?
I would say around $4-5 SGD (so a bit cheaper in USD). At least, these are the prices of the campus food courts and hawker centers. If you want to save money, eat at these places as much as possible. Maybe once in awhile, you can treat yourself out to an actual restaurant, but sit-in restaurants will definitely be more expensive.
9. Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals?
It was a little hard to find vegetarian/vegan meals, but not impossible. Indian food stalls, for example, have vegetarian options. There are more expensive places that will have vegan options, I believe, but vegan/vegetarian food is generally not as common in Singapore.
10. Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad.
While my friends and I were in Bali, we dined at this fancy restaurant under a gazebo-like structure suspended over a pond and overlooking a vast rice field. It was beautiful, and my description does not do it justice at all. We had sparkling wine and delicious Indonesian food as we soaked in the quaintness and beauty of our surroundings.
11. What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back?
I definitely miss chicken rice as well as mango lassi.
12. Describe your host city.
It’s a small city, but it’s very clean, modernized, and safe. There are so many things to explore, so many impressive buildings and sights to behold. It feels like both a suburb and a city at the same–not as crazy and hectic as New York, for example, but the tall buildings give you that city vibe anyway.
13. Was it easy to get around?
The MRT, or the subway, was very efficient and had routes that went everywhere (well, it’s a small city, so that makes sense). With the MRT, buses, and cheap Grab rides available (Grab is like Uber or Lyft), it was very easy to get around and in a timely manner as well.
14. Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students?
Unlike here in the U.S., where I am constantly on alert when walking around at night, I did not get that vibe at all in Singapore. Crime rates are reportedly very low, and as a fairly petite girl, I felt very safe roaming around the streets even in the latest hours of the night.
15. What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city?
One day, my friends and I went to an island off of Singapore called Pulau Ubin and spent the whole day bicycling around the island. Other days, we just explored different things Singapore had to offer, whether they were small and local or touristy. We sought out some bookstores and cafes, ate at hawker centers, and explored the shops in Chinatown and on Arab Street. When we felt more adventurous, we went hiking and explored the more touristy attractions, like Sentosa (a man-made island), Marina Bay Sands, etc.
16. Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad.
If we’re talking about culture in a broader sense, like people’s way of living, then there were a few differences here and there that I noticed. For example, people drive on the opposite side of the road and stand to the left side of the escalator. Those were honestly the biggest differences to me, since as an Asian, I’m always exposed to Asian culture and didn’t find people’s mannerisms and practices to be very different. I would say, however, that Singapore is much more conservative than California–you won’t see many same-sex couples, nor will you see people dressed liberally.
17. How did you handle culture shock?
There wasn’t really much of a culture shock since, as I mentioned, I’m Asian and am used to the food, language, and customs. There were differences, yes, but these differences weren’t a shock to me. This is especially so because Singapore is so modernized/westernized that many aspects of living are similar to the United States.
18. What is your favorite aspect of your host culture?
I can definitely appreciate the abundance of cheap Asian food that we don’t always see here in the U.S. For example, here you might find one Asian restaurant at a mall food court (and it’s usually Panda Express), whereas at a mall in Singapore, every restaurant serves Asian food. And that’s wonderful, because I am very partial to Asian food!
19. Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad.
Two of my friends and I decided to take a last-minute trip to Malaysia by bus for the weekend. We had heard that it would only be a four-hour ride, so we decided to head out Friday noon and go back on Saturday. However, the bus ride ended up taking way longer due to traffic, since it was a three-day weekend and everyone was trying to go to Malaysia. On top of that, waiting at immigration checkpoint took 4 hours, which was crazy. Overall, our trip there took 12 hours when it should have only taken 4. However, I still consider this one of my favorite travel stories, since my friends and I suffered through that together and made the most of it.
20. What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal?
I was scared of getting homesick throughout the semester, but I only felt a little homesick the first two weeks. After that, I did not miss home once and I wanted so badly to stay in Singapore when it was time to leave.
21. What was your biggest challenge abroad?
Honestly, it was the feeling of missing out or neglecting things back home. I had not been able to pursue certain opportunities I would’ve wanted to pursue back home if I had stayed. But I soon reasoned with myself and decided that this experience of studying abroad was worth so much in itself and that I would definitely be missing out if I didn’t study abroad.
22. How have you changed as a result of your time abroad?
I’ve become more proactive about making the most of my time in college. I used to think that I could just spend a lot of time sitting at home and doing nothing because I could go out and do fun things another day. But after being abroad, during which I tried to seize every moment because I knew my time was fleeting there, I realized that I should be applying the same mentality to my time here at UCSB–or to life in general.
23. What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students?
If you are hesitant about whether you want to go abroad or not, if you have even just one toe across the line, then just do it. You may have to sacrifice a few things in order to go, but this experience will be so unique and so rewarding that it’ll make up for anything you’d have to overcome.